It’s still January, so my mind is still on my goals. For those of you with goals/resolutions, put down the tub of Tide Pods: We’re only working on our third week of 2018. There’s still time; don’t quit on you now.
Every year for one year now, I’ve made a reading goal and kept it. I know, you are amazed at my stellar record. I astound you.
But wait, there’s more!
My yearly goal is 36. That’s right, three whole books a month. Some of you will laugh because you read double that or more every year without breaking a figurative sweat. Others will laugh because you can’t remember the last time you finished a sentence, let alone a book. (Parents, I’m looking at you.) To you, 36 pages would be an achievement.
I picked my goal because it was doable but would still require focus. I have always been a big reader, but I’m also a leisurely one. I tend to drift my way through a book, like meandering through a meadow, one where you’re not quite sure if there may be snakes hidden in the high grass. Partly, my slow pace is simple enjoyment. A good book, like good gin, is for sipping, savoring every tingly moment; partly, it’s the writer in me who is ever alert, analyzing/critiquing/admiring the wordsmithery or trying to guess where my nose is being led.
I admire books and authors for different reasons, and, while I tended to read primarily classic literature for most of my adult life, I am truly no snob. If I enjoyed it, flaws and all, I would still give it a 4/5 rating, minimum. Books are, after all, entertainment. That’s all I ask from them.
But some books do go beyond. They make me forget to analyze their structure with compelling story-weaving, seduce me with lyrical prose, or execute their aim so flawlessly that I want to stand up and cheer when it’s over. The following are my favorites from last year, along with a brief description of why I loved each one. After these five is the list of the others I enjoyed, followed by the few lighter, fluffier things I read. Some of these books are old, some new. There are fiction and non. Heavy and marshmallow-y. Just like with my friends, I like a variety.
(The classics listed are free on Project Gutenberg, and that is where their links direct you.)
*Disclaimer: The following contains affiliate links. Purchases made via these links may generate a commission for me, though they do not cost you anything additional. These books are my honest choices and were not in any way influenced by monetary gain. Pinky promise–bribery’s not my style.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
I’m usually behind when it comes to trends. I didn’t read any Twilight or Harry Potter books until the series was nearly done. But I kept hearing about how exciting the Outlander books were, so I decided to give them a shot. I received a set of the first four for Christmas and did a happy dance. These are ponderous tomes, with none shorter than 800+ pages, yet I tear through them. Yes, I, the snail reader. They’re impossible to put down, and I have to be mindful of reading them at bedtime, both because of how engaging they are and because they are on the graphic side in places.
These are adult books with adult themes and activities. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I would not call most of that content “gratuitous,” though. It’s not there for the sake of itself; it’s there because it’s part of the story, just as it’s part of life. Also, there is a strong (wonderful) romantic theme throughout the series, but these are not piles of “purple prose.” Gabaldon writes with a distanced, almost clinical style, not rambling on about feelings or the design of a gown. There is enough detail to make the scenes rich, but the story is always moving forward. And the heroine is real, impressive and actively drives the story, not accepting whatever comes her way and waiting to be rescued.
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel
I’ve been trying to branch off from my usual genres and give the weirdos in the corner–sci-fi, fantasy, even horror–a chance. This book made me glad I did. Bradbury wrote virtually every day of his life from the time he was a child. And, boy, does it show. A true virtuoso with plot and words, he makes the craft look effortless. Beautiful (not flowery) language, vivid characters, imaginative plot that–even though it’s speculative fiction (SF)–feels somehow plausible. It’s not a long book; I finished it in a few short days. If you want to see that SF isn’t all spaceships and dragons, start here.
Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness
Having broken into the SF genre so successfully with Something Wicked, I decided to give Le Guin a shot. I had seen some good writing advice come from her and heard the word “genius” tossed about. Now I see why. This one does have spaceships and aliens, but not presented in a freak show way. Like Something Wicked, this book uses the exotic as a vehicle to present a more universal idea, because sometimes, when you’re too close to something, it can be hard to see it well. This book was both impressive and engaging.
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air
First, let me warn you: this one’s heavy. You go into this one understanding the author is dead. If you insist on happy endings, skip this one. But that’s not to say this book is dark, because it’s not; it’s surprisingly hopeful. A natural part of living is considering your end. This guy had to face it much earlier than he should have, and it’s heartbreaking to read what he went through. Yet, the rare combination of a scientific mind and an artistic spirit makes this a beautiful read. You will cry, yes, but a good sobfest is cleansing.
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
This final choice is for all my creative types out there. You won’t find advice about plot, structure, or dialogue, but this book is like a giant, verbal hug. Reading this felt like having a best friend patting your back and saying, “I know how you feel. SAME.” I was slow to give Gilbert a try, until I watched her incredible Ted Talk on where inspiration comes from. Then I cracked open the library’s copy of Eat, Pray, Love (which would be on this list if I had finished it, but I am savoring every word of this 108-course meal) and found a friend I didn’t know I had. I know celebrity obsession causes people to over-identify with people they don’t know, but it’s really hard to read Big Magic and not think, “This lady really gets me.” If you have creative ambitions (writing, painting, sculpting–any kind of expressive art), I can’t recommend this book enough.
- Carrie, by Stephen King
- American Gods: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance
- Fortunes Change, by Emma Bow
- Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money (Revised Edition), by Dolly Freed
- Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton (FREE on Project Gutenberg)
- Hey, Waitress!: The USA from the Other Side of the Tray, by Alison Owings
- Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, by Margaret Atwood
- Neverwhere Illustrated Edition, by Neil Gaiman
- The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, by Gavin De Becker
- Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling
- A Man Called Ove: A Novel, by Fredrik Backman
- High Infidelity: 24 Great Short Stories About Adultery By Some Of Our Best Contemporary Authors, by misc.
- Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity, by Dr. Ronald Epstein
- Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
- A Merciful Death (Mercy Kilpatrick), by Kendra Elliot
- Dragonfly in Amber: A Novel (Outlander), by Diana Gabaldon
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6), by J. K. Rowling
- A Little Princess, by Francess Hodgson Burnett (RE-READ, FREE on Project Gutenberg)
- A Merciful Truth (Mercy Kilpatrick), by Kendra Elliot
- Good Night, Mr. Holmes: An Irene Adler Novel, by Carole Nelson Douglas
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie (FREE on Project Gutenberg)
- The Wordwatcher’s Guide to Good Writing and Grammar, by Morton S. Freeman
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah
The Marshmallows and Sprinkles:
- Unsuitable, by Samantha Towle
- Highland Surrender, by Tracy Brogan
- Mistaken Kiss: A Humorous Traditional Regency Romance (My Notorious Aunt) (Volume 2), by Kathleen Baldwin
- A Whisper of Rosemary (Medieval Romance) (The Medieval Herb Garden Series Book 3), by Colleen Gleason
- Sanctuary of Roses, by Colleen Gleason
- Almost Heaven: A Novel (The Sequels series), by Judith McNaught (RE-READ)
Read at Your Own Peril (Fun, But the Prose Annoyed Me):
- A Governess for the Brooding Duke: A Historical Regency Romance Book, by Bridget Barton
* Amanda Woodlee is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com